Inquirer Launches Pet Blog

Welcome to the Inquirer’s new pet blog - Philly Dawg - a home for news about all things animal-related.

2008 was the Year of the Dog in Pennsylvania with the passage of landmark legislation that will help improve the lives of tens of thousands of dogs housed in commercial kennels. This issue and several horrible acts of animal cruelty over the past year generated more e-mail and phone calls than I have seen in 20 years as a reporter.

Pennsylvanians are clearly passionate about animals and we felt there should be a dedicated pet place on Thus Philly Dawg was born, a blog that will try to deliver the full menu of news affecting animals and their people, from serious to frivolous, from the wild critters of the forest to the kitty on your lap.

You also can check in here for the latest activities of Pennsylvania’s “animal cops” - the humane officers of the PSPCA - in our weekly round up, “Animal Watch.”

Please feel free to drop me a line at with any tips.

Here are some of the big animal stories we anticipate following in 2009:

Dog Law: The Next Chapter

The new state law governing kennels with more than 59 dogs (or those which sell one dog to a pet store) takes effect in October. Among the key changes are larger cages and a ban on wire flooring - ubiquitous in the infamous Pennsylvania rabbit hutch - as well as requirements for outdoor exercise.

In addition, the Canine Health Board, formed as part of the new law, has issued temporary regulations governing temperature, lighting, air quality and flooring in kennels that were published on Friday in the Pennsylvania Bulletin. This is the first step in the regulatory approval process. The 30-day public comment period is underway now.

What will be the fallout from the slew of new requirements imposed on roughly 650 breeding operations? Animal welfare advocates are concerned the new law may touch off a rash of “dog dumping” as breeders seek to downsize or close. Shelters and rescue networks also are worried about how the new law will affect those who try to help homeless animals. Will the state be able to handle the additional enforcement needed to monitor newly unlicensed or downsized kennels?

Animal Cruelty Bill Revived

Rep. Thomas Caltagirone (D., Berks) says he will soon reintroduce a bill making it illegal for owners or breeders to debark a dog or perform a Caesarian section.

Caltagirone, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said his bill would prevent “gruesome” surgeries and impose a “zero tolerance" policy for the types of procedures that cause dogs to suffer serious pain.

Caltagirone's bill would allow tail docking on dogs only until they are 12 weeks old, provided the dog is under anesthesia and the procedure is performed by a licensed veterinarian. Removing a dog's dewclaws without anesthesia would also be permitted, but only for dogs up to 5 days old. It also would permit dog wardens to file cruelty charges against kennels when there is no Humane Society police officer to do so.

Caltagirone’s original bill, which cleared the House unanimously last year, died in the Senate, a casualty of the rancorous negotiations over the kennel bill. He says he will reintroduce the new bill as early as this month.

In the Courts:

Joyce and Raymond Stoltzfus, owners of CC Pets (formerly Puppy Love) kennel in Lancaster County , are scheduled to appear in Commonwealth Court in Harrisburg on Wednesday on charges they violated a three-year-old agreement with the Attorney General’s office. Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett has asked the court to revoke their right to run a business and impose fines of $4.4 million after the couple allegedly failed to identify the kennel in hundreds of classified ads as required. The 2005 agreement was the result of largest consumer settlement involving pet sales in state history.

In Lehigh County , kennel operator Derbe “Skip” Eckhart is scheduled to face charges of cruelty and violating the dog law. PSPCA agents raided Almost Heaven kennel on Oct. 1 and found nearly 800 animals, including dogs, horses, monkeys and guinea pigs on the dilapidated property. Several dozen sick animals were seized at the time, but hundreds of animals remain on the property. The hearing was moved from district court to the Lehigh County Courthouse in Allentown to accommodate what is expected to be a large crowd.

Jury selection begins July 13 in the trial of an Allegheny County woman charged in connection with the largest cat seizure in state history. Agents raided Tiger Ranch, a no-kill shelter in Frazer, last March and found more than 600 cats – many of them diseased and malnourished - living in squalor. Tiger Ranch operator Linda Marie Bruno was charged with 604 counts of cruelty. Earlier this month, in a related case, she was ordered to stand trial on charges of tampering with public record, forgery and operating an unlicensed veterinary practice. The 250 cats that survived are being cared for by the PSPCA in its Clarion County shelter.

The Presidential Dog Adopt-A-Thon

Who will be the lucky new First Dog? Who will be the second Second Dog? It seems the whole world - or at least most of the nation - wants to know. President-elect Obama says he will fulfill his promise to his daughters who want a dog and will more than likely adopt one. Now the buzz surrounds what breed the family will choose, a matter of some concern since one daughter has allergies. (Did we care this much when President Clinton brought his chocolate Lab, Buddy, home to the White House?)

Uptown at the Naval Observatory (also known as the Vice President’s home) the chatters surrounds where VP-elect Joe Biden will get his Dog Number Two. Biden – a longtime champion of animal welfare issues – found himself in hot water with adoption advocates last month when he purchased a German Shepherd puppy from a Chester County kennel. A week later Biden told reporters he was planning to add another dog to the mix - this time, he promised to pick a “pound puppy."